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Should I study pharmacy?

Welcome to another Footnotes Round Table Discussion.

Hi Footnotes,

I’ve always thought I wanted to study pharmacy, but I’m hearing a lot of talk about it being hard to get a job and that it’s a lot of study but you don’t get paid a lot? Is this true? Are there particular areas of pharmacy that I would earn morn in?

And if not pharmacy – is there anything similar that I might enjoy?

Advice please!! 

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For this round table discussion we called in:

  • Expert one: A recent grad on a rural placement
  • Expert two: A radiopharmacist
  • Expert three: An antimicrobial stewardship pharmacist
  • Expert four: A community pharmacist
  • Expert five: A third year pharmacy student



Expert one: A recent grad on a rural placement

After completing my studies and a community placement on the Sunshine Coast I’ve gone very rural and am at Alice Springs Hospital.

Moving to the outback was an adjustment at first, but the pharmacy team here have been very welcoming. It hasn’t been without it challenges – from severe disease states to language and health literacy barriers, it really put my clinical and cultural understanding to the test.

Expert two: Radiopharmacist

I’m actually a specialist pharmacist at a hospital in Melbourne.

I’m a radiopharmacist. In many ways it is the same as any pharmacist; we serve as a barrier to ensure the safe and appropriate use of medicines. The main differences in my specialty, is that the medicines are radioactive and I am involved in both their synthesis and quality control.

A radiopharmacist has the responsibility of releasing these products for human use, and therefore requires knowledge of nuclear physics, nuclear chemistry and awareness of all TGA, PIC/S and GMP regulations. However, at the end of the day my focus is providing the best possible pharmaceutical care to my patients.

Expert three: Antimicrobial Stewardship Pharmacist

Well I’m an Antimicrobial Stewardship pharmacist (AMS pharmacist). So as the development of new medications continues to grow, there is an increased need for understanding in specific areas of such medicines and it’s Stewardship programs that allow for us to research and understand them – making pharmacists an even greater source of advice and knowledge in areas such as analgesics, anticoagulation and antimicrobials.

My role includes coordination of the AMS program including coordination of multidisciplinary antimicrobial stewardship ward rounds, ensuring ACQSHC national safety and quality health service standards are met, education (including medical staff, pharmacists, nursing staff, pharmacy students), participation in research, supervision of post-graduate pharmacists, coordination of the program and policy and guideline development.

Expert four: Community Pharmacist

I’m in community pharmacy, so we’re the pharmacists that usually come to mind first. We’re the ones who fill prescriptions and provide medical services to the general public, as opposed to those who work in hospitals and laboratories.

I picked pharmacy in the end for uninspiring reasons. It ticked the boxes. It was a respected profession and there were opportunities to own your own business – you could also help people.

I read in the 2017 Graduate Outcomes Survey that pharmacy follows medicine as the second most in-demand industry for Australian undergraduates – so good pick by me.

While I have never had ‘the passion’ for pharmacy and still don’t, I have found it interesting, as well as rewarding. You get out what you put in and you can really help people when you want and if you don’t, you can just do the minimum, doleing out pills with generic info sheets when you can’t be arsed.

Expert five: Third year pharmacy student

Well I’m in my third year of studying undergrad pharmacy at the moment. I was always interested in chemistry at school and the concept of pharmaceutics.

I was looking at going into community pharmacy upon graduation, but I’m leaning further and further away from it as I hear more about it. So I’m not too sure about what way I want to go now. I have had three blocks of placements (over the course of the past three years) while undertaking the Bachelor of Pharmacy and did enjoy my hospital placement, so maybe I’ll go down that route. It’s interesting having all the other health disciplines in the one place.


Expert five: Third year pharmacy student

I’m just not sure if community pharmacy is properly remunerated.

After I finish my four-year undergraduate degree, I do an intern year under a pharmacist on a median salary of $42,000. Once I’m done with interning, the average pharmacist salary is $66,955 (according to a report from Graduate Careers) – less than nurses.

It doesn’t have a lot of wage growth, if any, and I feel like it’s a role that you do a lot in. The role of pharmacists in our health system has increased over the years to include health consultations, vaccinations and script management, particularly for older people and the rising population with chronic conditions – yet the pay has not increased to reflect this.

That’s why I’m thinking of hospital pharmacy, though I do hear some hospital pharmacists have a huge pharmacist-to-patient ratio– in one case, as large as 90 patients to one pharmacist. I’m not sure I could handle that!

I really have to keep researching things. I’d love to look at industrial pharmacy!

Expert four: Community Pharmacist

If you’re looking for things to be concerned about – don’t forget the mandatory extra training (CPD) you have to do each year, which is not the same for all health professionals. This usually sits at $4000 /year – which we pay for ourselves!! Plus the an annual registration and insurance fee that is close to $1000 a year – $2000 if they want to qualify for HMRs. This cost is not reflected by the low wage.


Expert one: Recent grad on a rural placement

I did a Bachelor of Pharmacy at UQ and I secured both a regional internship in Alice Springs and a place in the University of Queensland (UQ) Pharmacy Intern Training Program. They’ve been really supportive during my rural internship!

Expert two: Radiopharmacist

I had an interest in nuclear physics and chemistry and was studying a degree in nuclear medicine.

See Also

I discovered the role of a radiopharmacist during a lecture and approached the radiopharmacist and asked, “What do I need to do to have your job?” He said I needed to become a pharmacist first, then branch off and specialise.

Five years later I completed my degree in an honours project in radiopharmacy, an internship at an oncology centre and now I am based at a major teaching public hospital.

I am the first pharmacist in Australia, and one of the first two professionals within Australia to participate in a new radiopharmaceutical sciences specialist-training program through the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine (ACSPEM). This will certify me in radiopharmaceutical science, which I will combine with my pharmacist degree to be certified radiopharmacist specialist.

To become a specialist pharmacist in NSW, additional study and training partnered with at least three years of experience in the associated areas are required. There are opportunities to conduct research or complete further study at a registered training organisation or an accredited teaching institute.

Expert three: Antimicrobial Stewardship Pharmacist

I worked as a rotational clinical pharmacist in a NSW tertiary teaching hospital. During this time, I developed an interest in antimicrobials and infection management and I was fortunate that a full time position became available in Immunology and Infectious Diseases. After working in this role for four years, I applied for a specialist AMS pharmacist position, which I have now been working in since 2011.

Unfortunately, there is no dedicated post-graduate education program for ID and AMS, so much of my knowledge was learned on the job – components of ID and AMS are being incorporated into various programs, which is great to see. I enjoy teaching of junior pharmacists for this very reason.


Expert two: Radiopharmacist

Definitely. The possibilities in specialisation for pharmacists are becoming more and more prominent. With advanced practice programs growing and residency opportunities to step up in your career, the need for knowledge in specialised areas of pharmacy are following.

Pharmacists working in specialty areas have acquired unique knowledge and skills specific to the specialty area which I think makes it all the more rewarding when you can really focus in on what you’re doing and make a difference to your specific field.

Expert four: Community pharmacist 

To be completely honest, I probably would pick a different path if I had my time again. At least not choose community pharmacy – you can get a lot more money in others.

It does have its highs. I particularly enjoy imparting knowledge to those with long term conditions and empowering them to self manage. It’s also very satisfying when you pick up an interaction, side effect or inappropriate/unnecessary medicines, then advocate for the patient to get it sorted or stopped.

Perhaps my favourite and most satisfying moments though, are when I take the time to assess the patient’s understanding, gauge how much they actually want to know, then explain something about a condition or medicine in a way that they really understand properly for the first time. Watching that realisation spread across their face.

Expert five: Current student

I’m too far in to quit now, so will stick it out – but I wish I’d know the graduate realities. Hopefully I end up like the others on this round table and am able to find a part of the industry that enriches me.


Still interested in pharmacy? Here’s your roadmap into it. 

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